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Publication Date


Document Type

Honors Project




Neuroscience, Social behavior in animals, Empathy, Rats-Behavior, Pro-social behavior, Rats


Prosocial behaviors are commonly studied in humans. These behaviors pertain to everything from disorders characterized by social impairment (such as autism) to social relationships and economic decision making. However, there is not a firm biological understanding of the mechanisms underlying prosocial behavior, which could better inform treatments and overall approach to studying this class of behaviors. Until recently, rodent models of prosocial behavior have been limited to studies on pain and emotional contagion - leaving a hole in the research about prosocially motivated behaviors. In 2011, Dr. Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Dr. Peggy Mason, and Dr. Jean Decety of the University of Chicago published a new model of prosocial helping behavior in rats - the first of its kind to clearly depict a potential prosocially motivated behavior.1 It was found that rats learned to release their cagemates as well as any familiar strain of rat from a restrainer tube with increasingly lower latency over a 12 day test period.1,2 Controls indicated that the observed helping behavior was likely not motivated by a need for social interaction. The goal of this study is to characterize the individual behavioral traits that correlate with prosocial helping behavior as observed in the new model in order to better characterize the observed behavior and establish a more thorough understanding of the model as a whole. It is hypothesized that several correlations exist between certain behaviors and overall performance on the prosocial helping behavior test. This study assesses the relationships between prosocial helping behavior and the behavioral measures of anxiety, social interaction, social motivation, learning and memory, and stress response in rats. The version of the prosocial helping behavior model designed in our lab resulted in similar behaviors observed in past studies conducted by Ben-Ami Bartal. We also found a trend towards a positive correlation between anxiety-like behavior of the free female rats and prosocial helping behavior, as well as a significant correlation between social motivation of the free female rats and prosocial helping behavior. A final significant correlation was found between the anxiety-like behavior of the trapped female rat and prosocial helping behavior of the free female rat. More data collection and analysis must be conducted before final conclusions are made about the behavioral correlates of prosocial helping behavior that is portrayed in the new model. However, it is clear that individual differences in behavior and the unique relationships between the free and the trapped rat play a large role in prosocial helping behavior.




77 pages : illustrations (some color). Honors project-Smith College, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 66-70)